book review, historical fiction

Review: The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

I was already familiar with the Kingsbridge series from the Pillars of the Earth and World Without End mini-series. The Evening and the Morning is my first Ken Follett…and I must say, I went a very long time assuming he must be a very talented writer. But I think I was wrong.

I appreciate the level of world building that has gone into this series–although I haven’t read the others, I know they all follow the town of King’s Bridge from the late 10th century to the 16th century. Being a prequel, this novel focuses on the founding on King’s Bridge (aka Kingsbridge in later books,) when it was simply known as Dreng’s Ferry.

TEATM follows Edgar, a boat maker turned builder and Ragna, a Norman noblewoman who marries the Ealdorman of Shiring–the territory in which Dreng’s Ferry sits. Edgar and his family flee the town of Combe after a Viking attack and must build their penniless life anew in Dreng’s Ferry. It is here that Edgar chafes against his employer, the bully Dreng, as well as the simple and cruel people of the town. Edgar eventually befriends Ragna and Aldred, a humble and uncorrupted monk. The three work against the trio of evil brothers Wilwulf, Wigelm, and Wynstan to put Dreng’s Ferry on the right path toward growth, innovation, and success.

While the plot was engaging and the political and sociological structures of Medieval England were interesting enough to read until the end, the writing itself left much to be desired. I shrugged off the simple and unpoetic language at the beginning as expository lead-up to the juicy stuff, but sadly that style persisted throughout. What’s more, the dialogue was both awkward and too modern sounding.

My biggest gripe with this novel is Ken Follett is absolutely horrendous at writing women. Yes, we know it’s medieval England where life is a brutal–but that doesn’t mean every single female character has to be beaten and/or raped as plot points. Those plot points and the writing of them were both lazy and unnecessary. I found myself cringing and rolling my eyes at many plot points involving the female characters (a 12 year old and 22 year old have a sudden and random romantic relationship?!,) as well as their dialogue and actions.

Furthermore on the lazy writing point–character arcs and storylines generally wrapped up in very quick and convenient ways–especially at the end. There was a point around 87% in where I figured the book would end based on the last sentence (“People nowadays called it King’s Bridge.” or something along those lines.) However, the novel dragged out a bit more to basically tie up every storyline in neat, all too convenient bows.

Perhaps I’m judging Follett to harshly on this book. He has written a vast amount of novels and it’s entirely possible he’s just running out of steam. Maybe his earlier work, like Pillars of the Earth, is far better? I’m still on the fence about reading that one.

The lesson here? Quantity surely does not always mean quality.